Pork ribs in guajillo sauce with nopales (cactus)

This dish, pork ribs in guajillo sauce with nopales, can be accompanied by black beans and, of course, it is eaten with tortillas, preferably freshly made.

Pork ribs in guajillo sauce with nopales (cactus)
Pork Ribs in a Sauce with Nopales. Photo by Sean Stone / Unsplash

One of Mexico's greatest gastronomic chroniclers, Salvador Novo, has pointed out that the first Spanish banquet in Mexico was held in Coyoacán, shortly after the fall of Tenochtitlan. The pork was served with tortillas and wine.

Wheat bread, he says, probably had not yet arrived and Bernal Díaz, witness and reporter of the event taken up by Novo does not clarify if there were sauces. This would be the beginning of the fortunate culinary crossbreeding that gave rise to Mexican cuisine, one of the five main gastronomies in the world.

Much has been said about the cultural contributions not only of Mexico but of the entire New World to the heritage of humanity, highlighting the edible ones: the variety of chili peppers, avocado, pumpkin, corn, beans, tomato "tómatl" (true confusion, because all over the world it is called tomato), cocoa or vanilla -only with these last three products Mexico would have more than fulfilled its contributions to humanity. Thus, over time, he said, foreign ingredients were added and this true symbiosis was achieved.

The humorist Julio Camba used to say that when one is not "very abundant in resources", it is precisely in this lack of resources where appetite begins, the basis of gastronomy, which leads us to look for the small places where one eats well.

Thus, the gastronomic heritage of a country like Mexico would include simple breakfasts: fried tortillas with butter, green sauce, and black coffee, the meals of the markets and urban or provincial stalls with careful seasoning, the complex dishes such as mole poblano or chiles en nogada and many other recipes that contemporary chefs fuse to adapt them to this era, although the latter are already aimed at a more sophisticated public.

Of course, full belly, happy heart! And Mexicans of all times know how to use their imagination to fill it. Remarkably, the success of Mexican food has been the happy result of its miscegenation, so choose this simple dish where European ingredients are balanced with those native to Mexico.

Pork ribs in guajillo sauce with nopales (cactus)


1 kg of pork ribs.

For the sauce:

5 large and 3 small guajillo chiles (these are spicier).
Three or four cloves of garlic
½ teaspoon cumin powder (without this spice the dish is no more)
Some pepper seeds
2 or 3 medium nopales


Put the ribs on the fire in a casserole with salt and a little water. When the water evaporates, stirring constantly, fry them in the fat they have released. Once browned, add the sauce. Let them cook for about forty minutes and if necessary add a little water. At the end add the boiled nopales and adjust the salt.


Open the chiles and remove the seeds, boil them in water and, once soft, blend them with the garlic cloves, the peppers, and the cumin; strain it and pour it over the browned meat. The nopales are cut into julienne strips and boiled in salted water, the water is drained and added to the stew. This dish can be accompanied by black beans and, of course, it is eaten with tortillas, preferably freshly made.

Recipe by Marco Darío Balderas Lima